How To Clean a Dishwasher

Man using the dishwasher

For most families a dishwasher is something that is used commonly and often. It cleans the dishes and makes life easier. Most dishwashers require that you rinse the dishes, stick them in, and they come out clean and ready to be taken care of. This makes it easier to clean the kitchen up quickly and easily.

But the truth of the matter is that all that cleaning that the dishwasher does often leaves it dirty and in need of cleaning. A dishwasher should be cleaned about once a month (especially if you don't use it regularly). It doesn't have to be a hard thing to do and it can be done at your convenience.  

Not all of the steps outlined below need to be done at one time to keep your dishwasher clean - which will keep your dishes clean, and make your life easier. Simply complete all the steps in a month's time, each month, and you will find your dishwasher stays clean, smells good, and keeps your dishes cleaner as well.

Step 1

Remove the racks and wash them. Most racks come right out of the dishwasher. Pull them out and look at their track. At some point their should be a dip so that if you slide the rack to that point and lift up the rack will come out. This makes it easier to clean under the racks as well as clean the racks themselves. Because of their size and shape it is usually easier to clean the racks in the bathtub than in the sink. Use dish soap and scrub them down with a rag or brush. Rinse well. You can also do this with the silverware rack.

Step 2

Remove debris from the arms. Your dishwasher has arms that look sort of like a propeller. Each arm has small holes where the water is pushed out. You will want to make sure each hole is clean and free of any solid matter. If it isn't then pull out debris using a toothpick or a pair of needle nose pliers. Gently clean it out with a soft bristled brush or an old tooth brush.

This step is easiest to do with the racks removed. 

Step 3

Clean around the drain. While you usually don't need to scrub the drain or any parts of the dishwasher it is a good idea to make sure that there isn't any solid debris there. There should be a grating over the drain which will catch debris.  Pick any you see up and throw them away to make sure that they aren't being moved around during the wash process (and dirtying your dishes!). You can also use a soft brush or rag to loosen materials up. 

This step is easiest to do with the racks removed. 

Step 4

Clean the door. If you check your door there is a seal. This should be cleaned. It can get moldy and catch food. You can use 1/2 cup of bleach or vinegar to 3 cups of hot water and a soft brush or an old tooth brush for cleaning the seal. Simply scrub around it.  The under edge of the door is also a place where things can get but that doesn't get washed with the wash cycle. Clean this with the same mixture using your brush or a rag (even paper towel works).

This step can be done with the racks in and even done on a different day if you wish. 

Step 5

Run a cleaning cycle. Leaving your dishwasher empty of dishes and running it will help clean it out. There are several things you can add that can help in this process and choosing one can be up to you and the types of cleaners you want to run as well as any specific problems that your dishwasher may be experiencing.

  • Vinegar-Distilled white vinegar is a great item to use cleaning. It is natural and a great green cleaning item. It is also inexpensive and useful all over the house. This is great to clean your dishwasher with regularly. It is also good for removing hard water stains and scale. Add 1 cup to the bottom of the dishwasher and run a full cycle.
  • Bleach-Bleach is also inexpensive, but not as easy to use and not as safe. On the other hand it kills mold and mildew effectively and can make for a safer dishwasher. Use this is you are having problems with mold or mildew or if you are new to a location with a used dishwasher to make sure the dishwasher is safe for you to use. Add 1/2-1 cup in the bottom of the dishwasher and run a full cycle. 
  • Tang-Tang (orange drink mix) is the perfect item for cleaning a dishwasher with hard water issues (build up, scale, hard water stains and such). Simply dump 1/2 a container into the bottom of the dishwasher and run a cycle. Lemon juice works similarly, but not quite as well. If you wish to use lemon juice then use 2 cups to the bottom of the tub and then run the cycle.
  • Dishwasher cleaners-There are a wide range of dishwasher cleaners available as well. Choosing one of these is up to you. Follow the directions provided to clean the dishwasher.

When running these products, whatever you choose, you should run the cycle as hot as the dishwasher will let you. If you have a preheat cycle or option then do this as well as choosing all other options allowing for the hottest possible water. Hot water kills germs and will aid in cleaning the dishwasher.

This can be done with the racks in and even on a different day if you wish. 

Step 6

Clean the front. The front of the dishwasher is easy to clean. You can use a general all purpose cleaner, a kitchen cleaner, or glass cleaner. Another option is to use diluted vinegar (1 part vinegar and 3 parts water) which makes a great green cleaner for your household cleaning needs. You can add a pleasant fragrance to this with the essential oil(s) of your choice. Simply spray the door or other exposed sides and wipe with a cloth, sponge, or paper towel. This can be done whenever food or other messes get on them as well as regularly for a sparkling clean finish.

Step 7

Optional-Clean the drain. Every now and again (once ever six to eight months) and when you move into a location with a used dishwasher it is a good idea to clean the drain. To do that you will need to follow the following steps for safe practices on how to clean the drain.

  • Unplug the dishwasher. Depending on how your dishwasher is, you will find the plug in certain places. Most will have it under the sink. If you have a disposal you will want to test and make sure you are unplugging the dishwasher and not just the disposal. Some dishwashers were put in late and are plugged in above their locations. Working on any electronic device while it is plugged in is dangerous.
  • Locate your drain. It is usually easy to tell where the drain is. There will be a plastic grate type cover over it.
  • Carefully unscrew the grate. Take care to remove the grate by unscrewing it. You will need to make sure you don't drop any screws because they could cause damage to your dishwasher.
  • Using tape cover the hole. There will be a small drain hole. You will want to cover this with tape so that any loosened debris don't go down the hole (which can cause blockage issues). You can use masking tape, duct tape, or electrical tape. Just stick it on enough to cover the hole and not with the intent of it staying there.
  • Pick up debris. Carefully pick up any solids that you see. You can use your fingers, rubber gloves, or a cloth to do this. If you notice glass or other shards be careful to keep yourself safe.
  • Scrub clean. Using a soft bristled brush, an old tooth brush or a rag, scrub the drain area clean. You can do this with a mixture of vinegar water, bleach water, or lemon juice for safe cleaning.
  • Remove tape and reassemble. Once the area is clean remove your tape and screw the drain cover back into place. Be careful with the screws on this end as well. Once you are done remember to plug it back in. (Nothing is worse than thinking you broke your dishwasher while cleaning it, only to find you forgot to plug it back in!)

This should be done with the racks removed, but can be done on a separate occasion.

Keeping your dishwasher clean has a lot of advantages. Your dishes will be cleaner, your dishwasher will smell nicer, and you will also be protecting your family. Dishwashers are a great convenience and make our lives easier, but a dirty dishwasher can be bad for our health allowing small pieces of old food, mold, and germs to deposit themselves on our dishes. A cleaning regimen each month can eliminate this danger and keep you and your family safe and healthier.


Share this article!

Follow us!

Find more helpful articles:



I never thought there is so much to look into in a dishwasher. I have never bothered before. Once, I paid so much for repair and the cause is an olive seed blocking the drain. This is a great article.

By Mary Norton